Friday, May 8, 2009

NSO - Anderson, Knussen, Thomas & Schuller - 05/07/09

Conductor: Oliver Knussen
Anderson: Imagin'd Corners
Knussen: Violin Concerto, Op. 30 - Leila Josefowicz
Thomas: Helios Choros I
Schuller: Of Reminiscences and Reflections

I am fully aware that I am not doing enough (or anything, really) to keep abreast of what’s going on in the field of contemporary classical music, but once in a while I do bring myself to a concert that was not on my drop-everything-and-go list. I really don’t mind making the effort (It’s good for the brain), but it sure helps if the music is somewhat enjoyable, or at least intriguing. After all, some past composers did not always have it easy either when they were breaking new ground, and today they are unanimously appreciated, their works regularly filling up concert halls around the world. With that thought in mind, I’m more than willing to explore unknown territory and face less comfortable music as long as my open-mindedness does not lead me to self-inflicted torture because, at the end of the day, if it doesn't sounds good, why listen to it?

Last night, the NSO promised an accessible concert of contemporary music and it is pretty much what they delivered under the baton of one of the genre's pillars, Scottish multi-faceted music man Oliver Knussen. Julian Anderson’s Imagin’d Corners was, all things considered, a neat way to start the program. The main feature of the work was four horns played from various spots in the concert hall before ending up on the fours corners of the stage where the rest of the orchestra was also playing, smartly bringing the music into focus. The score was definitely on the cacophonous side and supposed to evoke the Last Judgment and the Resurrection. OK.
After the jarring sounds of the opening number, it was with quite a bit of relief that we saw Leila Josefowicz appear for Knussen's violin concerto, the sure-fire hit, if there was one, of the evening. Originally written for the composer's long-time friend Pinchas Zukerman, its three interconnected movements pleasantly displayed a steady balance between modern and traditional, and its attractive highlight came in the form of an exquisite Romantic Aria that may not have been particularly innovative, but sure sounded good. A hard-core contemporary music advocate herself, Leila Jesofwicz performed which much grace and conviction and received a long ovation from the grateful audience.
The next two works were by American composers, and they went down rather well too. Augusta Read Thomas, who was there to introduce hers, obviously enjoys mixing and matching various musical influences, and the end result was, well, eclectic. The first part of a triptych, her Helios Choros I, was originally conceived as a score for a dance number, but yesterday we had to contend ourselves with sounds and no visuals. Starting very gently with crystalline sounds, it soon became a busy festival of different timbres and colors, including some jazzy flavors, before its rousing conclusion.
Not to be outdone, Gunther Schuller’s work starts with a sudden and powerful assault before getting on relentless roller-coaster of violent emotions. Written as a memorial for his wife of 49 years, it is a dark, passionate mini-symphony, and resoundingly wrapped up an evening that didn't turn out as dreadfully hermetic as originally feared, and proved that a middle ground is not only reachable, but also not such a bad place to be in after all.

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